Guinea-Bissau -- Geography --
At 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi), Guinea-Bissau is larger in size than Taiwan, Belgium, or the U.S. state of Maryland. This small, tropical country lies at a low altitude; its highest point is 300 metres (984 ft). The interior is savanna, and the coastline is swampy plain. Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago extends out to sea.
Guinea-Bissau -- History --
Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the eighteenth century, while others were part of the Portuguese Empire. Portuguese Guinea was known also, from its main economic activity, as the Slave Coast.
Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto's voyage of 1455, the 1479-1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse, and Diogo Cão who in the 1480s reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up thus the foundations of modern Angola, some 1200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.
Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, since the 16th century, the interior was not explored until the nineteenth century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, had no interest in allowing the Europeans any further inland than the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place. African communities which fought back against slave traders had even greater incentives to distrust European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese presence in Guinea was therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau and Cacheu, although isolated European farmer-settlers established farms along Bissau's inland rivers.
For a brief period in the 1790s the British attempted to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama. But by the 19th century the Portuguese were sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory, also up north in part of present South Senegal.
An armed rebellion beginning in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral gradually consolidated its hold on then Portuguese Guinea. Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain, its easily reached borderlines with neighbouring allies and large quantities of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries.
Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors and technicians. The PAIGC even managed to acquire a significant anti-aircraft capability in order to defend itself against aerial attack. By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24, 1973. Recognition became universal following the April 25, 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.
Luís Cabral was appointed the first President of Guinea-Bissau. Following independence local black soldiers that fought along with the Portuguese Army against the PAIGC guerrillas were slaughtered by the thousands. Some managed to escape and settled in Portugal or other African nations, one of the massacres occurred in the town of Bissorã. In 1980 the PAIGC admitted in its newspaper "Nó Pintcha" (dated November 29, 1980) that many were executed and buried in unmarked collective graves in the woods of Cumerá, Portogole and Mansabá.
The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994, but an army uprising in 1998 led to the president's ousting and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War. Elections were held again in 2000 and Kumba Ialá was elected president.
In September 2003, a coup took place in which the military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems." After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004 . A mutiny of military factions in October 2004 resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces, and caused widespread unrest.
Guinea-Bissau -- Economy --
Guinea-Bissau's GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the world. Its Human Development Index is also one of the lowest on earth. More than two-thirds of Guinea-Bissau's population lives below the poverty line. The economy depends mainly on agriculture; fish, cashew nuts and ground nuts are its major exports. A long period of political instability has resulted in depressed economic activity, deteriorating social conditions, and increased macroeconomic imbalances.
Guinea-Bissau has started to show some economic advances after a pact of stability was signed by the main political parties of the country, leading to an IMF-backed structural reform program. The key challenges for the country in the period ahead would be to achieve fiscal discipline, rebuild public administration, improve the economic climate for private investment, and promote economic diversification. After becoming independent from Portugal in 1974 due to the Portuguese Colonial War and the Lisbon's Carnation Revolution, the exodus of the Portuguese civilian, military and political authorities brought tremendous damage to the country's economic infrastructure, social order and standard of living.
After several years of economic dowturn and political instability, in 1997, Guinea Bissau entered the CFA franc monetary system, bringing about some internal monetary stability. The civil war that took place in 1998 and 1999 and a military coup in September 2003 again disrupted economic activity, leaving a substantial part of the economic and social infrastructure in ruins and intensifying the already widespread poverty. Following the parliamentary elections in March 2004 and presidential elections in July 2005, the country is trying to recover from the long period of instability despite a still-fragile political situation.
Beginning around 2005, drug traffickers based in Latin America began to use Guinea-Bissau, along with several neighboring West African nations, as a transshipment point to Africa for cocaine. The nation was described by a United Nations official as being at risk for becoming a "narco-state".
Guinea-Bissau is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Guinea-Bissau -- Culture --
The music of Guinea-Bissau is usually associated with the polyrhythmic gumbe genre, the country's primary musical export. However, civil unrest and other factors have combined over the years to keep gumbe, and other genres, out of mainstream audiences, even in generally syncretist African countries.
The calabash is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau, and is used in extremely swift and rhythmically complex dance music. Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies, especially AIDS.
The word gumbe is sometimes used generically, to refer to any music of the country, although it most specifically refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country's folk music traditions. Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while extent folk traditions include ceremonial music used in funerals, initiations and other rituals, as well as Balanta brosca and kussundé, Mandinga djambadon, and the kundere sound of the Bissagos Islands.
Flora Gomes is an internationally renowned film director. His most famous film is "Nha Fala".
Guinea-Bissau -- Politics --
Guinea-Bissau is a republic. In the past, the government had been highly centralized, and multiparty governance has been in effect since mid-1991. The president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. At the legislative level, there is a unicameral "Assembleia Nacional Popular" (National People's Assembly) made up of 100 members. They are popularly elected from multi-member constituencies to serve a four-year term. At the judicial level, there is a "Tribunal Supremo da Justiça" (Supreme Court) which consists of nine justices appointed by the president, they serve at the pleasure of the president.
The main political parties are the PAIGC (Partido da Africa Independencia da Guine-Bissau e Cape Verde) and PRS (Partido Renovacao Social), with over twenty smaller parties. Kumba Iala, also recently known as Muhammed Kumba Iala, was the presidential candidate of the PRS during the 2009 election. Malam Bacai Sanha was the presidential candidate of the PAIGC in 2009, who won the second round and was sworn in as president on September 8, 2009.
João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira became President of Guinea-Bissau in 2005 as an independent candidate, being declared winner of the second round by the CNE (Comite Nacional da Eleicoes. Vieira returned to power in 2005 after winning the presidential election only six years after being ousted from office during a civil war. Previously, he held power for 19 years after taking power in 1980 in a bloodless coup. In that action, he toppled the government of Luís Cabral. He was killed on March 2, 2009, possibly by soldiers in retaliation for the killing of the head of the joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Waie.